We purchased our first Subaru Outback 13 years ago to haul around three cavalier King Charles spaniels and, as needed, two cats and two birds. In the years since, we’ve driven it to San Francisco; Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; Wyoming; New Mexico; Utah; Arizona; and Oklahoma. I had hoped it would last us another couple of years, but repair costs were rising higher, so last month we found ourselves in search of a new dog car.
With the need to hold crates, pop-up tents and other equipment for dog shows and canine sports events, choosing the right vehicle is a matter of intense interest to members of the “barkoisie.” Issues such as cargo capacity, the ability to go off road to reach field trial sites, all-wheel drive versus four-wheel drive, and of course gas mileage are all matters to consider when selecting a dog car. The right choice depends on the size and number of dogs and the activities in which owners and dogs participate.
Auto manufacturers recognize that dog owners are an important demographic. Honda no longer makes its Element, which had a large fan base among dog owners, but at last month’s Los Angeles Auto Show, a team of golden and Labrador retrievers introduced Subaru’s three-row SUV, the 2018 Ascent. The company intentionally markets its vehicles to dog owners after a study found that more than half of Subaru owners have dogs. Honda’s roomy CR-V crossover, midsize Pilot SUV and Odyssey minivan also find favor with active dog owners or people with large dogs.
What do dog owners look for in a vehicle? Debbie Best of Huntington Beach, California, who lives with two flat-coated retrievers, has a long list of musts as she contemplates trading in her 190,000-mile Subaru Forester for the larger Ascent. They include a boxy shape – more practical for carrying cargo and offering better visibility than the sloped rears seen on many vehicles – seats that fold flat, and rear air vents.
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“I want to know the dogs are cool, even when the car is packed,” she says. “It’s a plus if they are on the ceiling, as they are with the Ascent.”
Her new vehicle must also be tall enough to hold large dog crates, with at least 44 inches between the wheel wells so she can fit two crates side by side. All-wheel drive is important for field training and trips to the mountains.
Dog trainer Liz Palika of Oceanside, California, searched for five months to find just the right ride for herself and her two 50-pound English shepherds. She decided on a midsize SUV, a 2017 Toyota Highlander, that she describes as “not too small, not too big.” The back seats fold down, allowing her to carry two midsize dog crates and still have room for cargo.
Lillian Huang of Emeryville, California, also likes the 2017 Highlander for its flat backseat floor, making it easy to accommodate folding tables, tents and canopies behind the front seats; the backup camera; and the separate air conditioning vents for the back of the car.
Other factors affecting vehicle choice are a dog’s age and mobility. Jill Gibbs of Billings, Montana, prefers minivans because it’s easier for aging dogs to get in and out of them. “I bought my first one for my 12-year-old golden,” she says.
For advice on selecting a dog-friendly car, turn to a Facebook page called Dog Sport Vehicle Ideas. Edmunds, AutoTrader and other websites also rate cars for their canine suitability. Search “dog-friendly cars” for tips.
In our case, we’re currently down to two cavaliers, but our activities have expanded to canine nose work trials, as well as many road trips to visit family. We went with another Outback, confident that it will carry us and our dogs for at least another dozen years.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Kim Campbell Thornton, affiliated with Vetstreet.com.